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Wild weather reins in Tevis Cup

By: Elizabeth Speth Loomis News Correspondent
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Late winter snow in the high country and predictions of a cool spring have prompted officials to postpone this year’s Tevis Cup race until October 8. The 56th annual ride was delayed from its original July 16 date after Tevis officials reported 10 feet of snow at Soda Springs Road, near the race’s Squaw Valley starting line. The Western States Trail Foundation (WSTF) Board of Governors cited “unprecedented extreme weather conditions that have made many sections of the WSTF trail unsafe, and impassable.” “It’s just too dangerous,” said Loomis resident Mike Pickett, past president and current member of the governing board. “We are looking at multiple logistics. Heavy snow in the Granite Chief Wilderness area, and the Squaw Peak area, are not expected to melt in time,” said Pickett, who is a three-time finisher of the grueling, one-day, 100-mile event. Picket said officials also are concerned about a river crossing just above Auburn, near the finish line. PG&E lowers the river for the after-dark crossing, a process that requires 10 hours and relatively low, late-summer water levels. “It actually won’t be possible to lower the river, with the run-off we’re expecting at that point,” Pickett said. Tevis traditionally takes place under a full moon, so riders can pick their way over mountains and through canyons between Tahoe and Auburn after dark. According to the National Weather Service, riders this year have three fewer hours of daylight. Typically, race conditions start with near-freezing temperatures at the pre-dawn start, and can reach a blistering 112 degrees in the heat-reflecting, rocky canyons. Head race veterinarian and Tevis finisher Langdon Fielding, of Loomis, said the late-season start will mean a host of different risk factors for horses. “Everyone is used to training for heat,” Fielding said. “If we have colder weather we may have different types of medical problems, (like) more tied-up muscles.” ‘Tie-up’, or spastic Myalgia, is a painful muscular condition for horses resulting from too much lactic acid production. If horses can’t keep working muscles warm, the resulting ‘tie-up’ can be serious enough to get them disqualified from the race. Endurance riders from as far away as Japan and Saudi Arabia race in the Tevis Cup, widely considered one of the sport’s toughest competitions. Much of the trail is inaccessible to support crews, and horse and rider must be prepared to face a rugged, fast, sometimes isolated course. Tom Johnson, Loomis resident and WSTF member, calls it “tremendous, and unbelievably difficult, logistically. No matter what the conditions are, horse and rider have to be ready for anything.” Tevis has only faced re-scheduling once before, when it was cancelled in 2009 due to wildfires.